Tackling the Diversity & Inclusion Challenge using a Lean Six Sigma approach

Despite measures to increase their ranks, women and minorities continue to be underrepresented in law firm equity partnerships. This problem has become a nightmare for some firms and clients are demanding change. Earlier this year, more than 170 general counsel and chief legal officers signed an open letter to big law firms expressing their disappointment that “many law firms continue to promote partner classes that in no way reflect the demographic composition of entering associate classes.” The letter says their companies will prioritize their legal spend on those firms that commit to diversity and inclusion. The call to action is clear, "improve diversity or lose our business." Law firms must listen to the “voice of the customer” and act now to put measures in place to comply with the clients’ clamor for change. An effective way to tackle the diversity and inclusion (D&I) challenge is through Lean Six Sigma (LSS).

By creating a D&I compliance program with LSS, law firms will show their clients how they are taking time-tested business measures to make progress. LSS relies on a number of tools to improve processes. Simple LSS tools, such as the “5 Whys,” Kaizen events and DMAIC cycles can advance D&I. Compared to other D&I programs that do not rely on LSS, our approach creates a solution tailored to the particular law firm’s culture and confronts each firm’s goals and objectives. Law firms are businesses, after all.

The DMAIC cycle, or Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control, refines, optimizes and stabilizes business processes and designs. We can use DMAIC to tackle D&I at law firms. Applying a collaborative team approach with a Lean Six Sigma facilitator, everyone has a say in describing the problem and designing the solution.

To improve the process of diversity and inclusion using DMAIC, as a first step, we need to define the problem at the particular law firm. We all know the general issue: lack of women and minorities at the equity level. But why is that the case at your firm? Using tools like the “5 Whys,” the goal is to get to the root-cause of the problem. One or several origins can exist, and they may even be unique to your firm.

Next, we use existing data to measure the problem. By mining your data, we can determine the scope and extent of the problem. We also must analyze the business impact, whether it is client or employee dissatisfaction, lost opportunities, the cost of the proverbial “revolving door,” etc. This is a crucial step to gain stakeholders’ buy-in. Other data points to collect and discuss with the stakeholders can be gathered with outside research, which shows that diversity is strongly correlated with both profitability and value creation.

An effective way to execute a D&I compliance program with Lean is through a Kaizen event. The selected cross-functional team of attorneys of all races and genders from all levels of the firm then creates an improvement and control plan. T​he team meets for a set amount of time, usually 3 or 5 days, consecutive or not. The cycle of the activity can be defined as: “Plan ⇾ Do⇾ Check ⇾ Act.” You can use this method to plan how to improve diversity and inclusion, measure the results of your progress, check those results, and then act based on what you’ve learned.

The goal is a culture change to achieve a state of continuous process improvement. Controlled continuous improvement takes teamwork; it’s a sustained, results-driven set of methods to advance new initiatives and transform workplace culture while everyone involved shares the commitment to sustained outcomes.

Fostering greater diversity and inclusion in law firms isn’t just a “one and done” solution. You cannot simply check a box. But by having a Lean Six Sigma Diversity & Inclusion compliance program, you will achieve measurable progress while you enhance lawyer and client satisfaction. Creating a process map, executing the improvement steps in the right sequence, establishing the right control systems, all using a LSS approach, will have a clear, positive impact on the results of your D&I program.


Edmunds, K. (2017). How to Put the 5 Whys of Lean Six Sigma on Steroids.[online] Salient Management Company. Available at:​ [Accessed 13 Jun. 2019].

GovLoop. (2015). Continuous Improvement Creates Diversity and Inclusion Opportunities | GovLoop.[online] Available at: -opportunities/​ [Accessed 13 Jun. 2019].

ISixSigma. (2010). What Is DMAIC? |iSixSigma.[online] Available at:​ [Accessed 13 Jun. 2019].

Slater, Lourdes. Peer to Peer: ILTA’s Quarterly Magazine.​ “Legal Process Improvement Through Lean: Bringing the Best of Business to the World of Law.” Spring 2019. [Accessed 12 June 2019.]